Universities everywhere are setting up camps to protest the treatment of Gaza; what does this look like in practice?

This week, Oxford and Cambridge university have witnessed the setting up of camps by students to protest the recent war crimes which Israel has committed against Gaza. These come as the latest in a series of protests at various universities, with some in the US and France gaining notorious media attention. This article explores what these camps look like, why they are being set up and how authorities have responded.

This week’s camps involved student occupation of the lawns of the Pitts river museum in Oxford, as well as the Liberated Zone being set up outside Kings College in Cambridge. Students set up tents and held up signs in support of Palestine. They are not the only UK universities to do so, with Manchester, Warwick, Bristol Sheffield, Newcastle, Goldsmiths, and many others having done the same. While Durham has yet to follow, a statement from the Student Union expressed that Durham must ‘respect the right to protest’, as well as stating that the university must publish a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire. The UK protests follow international action at universities, including Austria, Belgium and the US. In France, a different form of protest has also been used with thirteen students at Sciences Po going on a hunger strike to pressure the university to reveal its partnership with Israeli institutions. 

The action taken against protesters at many universities has garnered criticism from the media. On May 2nd in UCLA, police swarmed in to tackle peaceful protesters using riot gear and flesh bangs to push through lines of protesters linking arms. Pepper spray was used and rubber bullets were also fired at close range, with many needing to be rushed to the ER.   The police were not only used to dismantle protests in the US – they have also broken up camps at Berlin’s Free University, and in Amsterdam many of the occupiers were arrested. Many have reacted with shock at the extremity and violence at some of tactics used against these students.

The protests are largely to act in defiance of the ties some institutions are maintaining with Israel, despite the state’s ongoing war and arguably genocide against Palestinians. Demonstrators at Oxbridge this week have been calling on the university to cut financial ties with Israel. Others are protesting on a larger scale – UCLA students also demanded their government pressure an immediate and permanent ceasefire. At present, the situation in the middle East is dire, with Israel having launched a bombing campaign against Eastern Rafah, the land which it had earlier called Palestinians to go to as it would be safe. Biden has threatened to stop supplying arms to Israel in case it attacks Rafah, but we can only wait to see if this holds true. In the meantime, we must hope the protests at least bring about some university action, as well as sending a message of defiance to Israel and its supporters.

Image: Scott Gunn on Flickr

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